The musings of an aspiring carver of space

My complaint to GOV.UK regarding COVID-19 information


I have some recommendations for your COVID-19 page on GOV.UK:

  1. Develop an easy-read policy and link to it prominently, near the top of the page, before most visitors would need to scroll down.

  2. Summarise this policy

    1. Display a summary of this policy, in bullet form, on your COVID-19 page. Again, have it so that most visitors will be able to read the whole summary without having to scroll.

    2. This will invariably mean that you will be limited in the number of points you can include. (Certainly less than ten; probably less than five.) Include the most important points, both in terms of DOs and DON'Ts, and a timestamp indicating when the list last changed.

    3. When considering these 'most important points', look to the future. Today (14/07), for example, I would argue that the following should be included, even in a Top 5 list: Soon, face masks will need to be worn sometimes. This will start on Monday, 20 July. We will provide more information before then. Or something like that. (I'm not versed in all the rules of easy-read policy.)

  3. Consider ending the web page before most visitors would need to scroll. Most visitors won't scroll anyway. (This has been studied.) Consider ending the page with a link to further information (which could include all the information that you currently have on the COVID-19 page).

  4. Consider changing the stylesheet back to the standard GOV.UK one. For reasons I will outline below, those colours spike my anxiety before I've even managed to read one word of the page in question.

Thank you for your time. For clarity, this message can be read in conjunction with the survey feedback marked with REFhash0087NCOVID19.

End of Summary

Further details

On Sunday, 15 March, I had a panic attack.

It was directly related to UK Government messaging.

Someone pointed me to a YouTube video that Matt Hancock's Twitter feed had implicitly endorsed (i.e., favourited/loved). (I think another UK Government account had done so as well, but the details fade.) The video featured someone I'd never heard of, in their back garden, with jugs of water, some with holes in, talking about how to keep our hospitals from being overwhelmed.

I thought, that's an odd thing for a UK Government account to be interacting with. Is this representative of the official policy? How are they going to let some of us carry on with our lives, while preventing others from doing so?

At which point, I stopped and smiled. Don't be silly, I thought. If Matt Hancock's team has time to be on Twitter, surely it's because GOV.UK has the ground truth; it will tell me what I need to know.

Do you recall what your web page looked like back then?

It was, entirely — as far as my increasingly anxious mind would allow me to read, anyway — about what to do if I was symptomatic.

In other words, I HAD NO INFORMATION about what to do, other than to maybe go and see whether Hancock had liked any other video analogies that might shed some light ON HOW TO ENSURE THE SAFETY OF THE MANY VULNERABLE PEOPLE IN MY CIRCLE.

At this point, I screamed. I ranted at the person who'd sent me the link, even though I actually love them. Then I powered off my phone. Then I had a lot of whisky.

Now, whenever I see that hazard-tape style imaging on your COVID-19 page, I'm right back there. Sunday, 15 March. Panicking. Because you didn't do your job. Lockdown was less than 24 hours away, yet you had no information for the vast majority of the UK population. Nothing. Except for your GOV.UK Twitter account(s) irresponsibly leaving us to guess at the official UK Government policy.

I would be ashamed of myself, were I responsible for that site. And it hasn't changed: speculation about where and when face masks will be required is rampant, yet you don't have anything about it on that page right now. I know that there is no official position right now, but there is an official position on when that to-be-determined policy will come into force...


There are people out there who are trying their best to control their anxiety in this unprecedented situation. Knowing that they should buy face masks now, for the near future, is important. No, they can't be watching the daily briefings — if those are still going on. No, they can't bear to read the papers. They can't really bear to read your COVID-19 web page, but they are forcing themselves to do so, hoping in vain for some concise, clear information about what to do now, and in the coming week.

Please think of them.

End of Further details

Thank you for your time.


John Jarvis


Note: edited for clarity. (I was upset when I wrote this. Go figure.)